Committee recommends turning Field Elementary into early childhood center

Saturday, February 2, 2008 | 4:25 p.m. CST; updated 12:31 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — Field Elementary School may become an early childhood center when a new elementary school opens in 2009.

The Elementary Enrollment Planning Committee thinks Field is no longer suitable for elementary use. Among the committee’s duties is setting attendance boundaries for elementary schools in the Columbia Public School District. Columbia Public Schools is recommending the facility be changed into an early childhood center if the elementary school closes.

Crowding at Field has pushed the committee to find a new use for the building, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett said in a meeting with media Friday. There are 272 students at Field, which exceeds the building’s capacity of 250.

“We have seven trailers at Field and four classrooms out in trailers who have to come in every day for lunch and to use restroom facilities,” said Carol Garman, the principal at Field. Garman is the planning principal for the new elementary school, and it is likely that she will be principal when the school opens in 2009.

The school will be in northeast Columbia, at Waco and Brown Station roads.

Barnett said bus transportation time and school demographics at Field were also considered.

Committee chairman Don Ludwig calculated the number of students who could be affected by redistricting for the new school. He found that Field enrollment would drop to the point that gerrymandering would be needed to keep the school viable.

“We did not want kids to bus past other schools just to fill up Field,” Ludwig said.

Students enrolled at Field for the 2008-2009 school year will be able to choose between attending the new school or one in their new district attendance area. Seven elementary schools would be affected, and parent information sessions will be held for these schools. Derby Ridge, Blue Ridge, Lee, Shepard, Parkade and Cedar Ridge are all candidates for filling up the new elementary school.

The committee concluded that Field is no longer a neighborhood school; most of its students are bused in, and fewer than 20 students walk to school. District-wide information collected by the committee through community surveys found that people place high importance on maintaining neighborhood schools.

The new elementary school has an estimated capacity to teach 650 students, though it will begin with 550 to 600 in order to allow for growth. Teachers and staff at Field have been invited to work there, Garman said.

Committee members think the community would benefit the most if the building were converted into an early childhood center. Columbia has not been able to serve all of the families in need of one, Barnett said.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase has already shared the recommendation with the Columbia School Board, but Ludwig will do so formally in May. In the next few months, they will listen to feedback on their recommendation at informational sessions starting next week.

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